‘Black August’ in Iraq

It is “Black August” for American soldiers in iraq. Devastating improvements in shaped charges and multiple-piled mines used by Sunni Muslim insurgents there have enabled them to inflict massive casualties on U.S. forces.

According to the Iraq Index Project of the Brookings Institution, from Aug. 3 through Aug. 10, 44 U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq in the first 10 days of August alone, compared with 28 killed the week of July 28 through Aug. 3.

As the Washington Post noted Sunday, that made the week of Aug. 3-Aug. 10 “the fourth worst week of the whole war for U.S. military deaths in combat and for August already … the worst month for deaths of the National Guard and Reserve.
This current week, the figures will also be bad. On Sunday alone, the Department of Defense announced the deaths in combat of another five U.S. soldiers on Saturday and Sunday,

If the Iraqi insurgents succeed in maintaining their kill rate of U.S. troops for the rest of this month, August could see more than 130 U.S. troops killed, the worst death toll per month there since last November. In July, which seemed to be a bad enough month at the time, 54 U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq, according to Department of Defense figures.

The number of U.S. troops wounded in action from the beginning of hostilities on March 19, 2003, through Wednesday, Aug.10 was 13,877, an increase of 108 on the previous week, the IIP said. This figure was remarkably close to the figure of 112 for the previous week of July 28 to Aug. 3, and this in turn suggested that despite the dramatically increased death toll of U.S. troops, the insurgency was reporting in its attacks against U.S. forces across Iraq at about the same level.

But this remained cold comfort as the increased lethality of attacks through the first third of August strongly indicated that the insurgents are now capable of producing much more complex and lethal improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, capable of inflicting far more fatalities on U.S. forces.

The main cause for this rise in lethal expertise, U.S. military analysts believe, is training given to the Sunni Muslim insurgents by veteran bomb-makers from the Shiite Hezbollah, or Party of God, in Southern Lebanon that has been strongly supported over the past quarter century by Syria and most of all by Iran.

The number of U.S. troops wounded over the week of Aug. 3 – Aug. 10 was 108, the IIP said. This remained far below the figure of 293 U.S. soldiers wounded from July 6 to July 13, but still above the grim average of over 100 U.S. soldiers injured per week, many of them losing limbs or suffering other permanent disabilities. It clearly indicated that the insurgency was continuing to run at the same serious levels as it has in recent weeks with no reduction in sight.

There was a little evidence to suggest that the insurgents diverting some of their resources and expertise from their devastating ongoing assaults on the new Iraqi security forces to target U.S. troops instead so far this month.

From Aug. 3 to Aug. 10, the IIP reported that 56 Iraqi police and soldiers were killed bin insurgent attacks, a still devastating figure, but significantly lower than the 80 killed the previous week of July 28 through Aug. 3. Nevertheless, the figure was still higher than the 52 killed during the previous week of July 20-27. That brought the total number of Iraqi police and military killed from June 1, 2003 to Wednesday of this week to 2,853 according to the IIP figures.

Through the first 10 days of August, 80 Iraqi police and soldiers were killed by insurgents, the IIP said — an average of eight per day. If maintained through the rest of this month, this figure projects a death toll of 248 killed for the entire month of August.

Bad as this figure would be, it would still be 20 percent better than the 304 killed in July or the 296 killed in June. But it still points to a nationwide insurgency inflicting casualties severe and consistent enough to render any national army or police force ineffective in such circumstances.

The figures for the first 10 days of August also confirm that the numbers of Iraqi police and military whom the insurgents are managing to kill per month has been rising since January when it totalled “only” 103. (There was a marginal improvement in April compared with March, but so minimal as to be statistically insignificant. In all, 199 Iraqi security force members were killed in April compared with 200 the previous month according to the IIP figures.)

Apart from that minor fluctuation, this casualty figure has risen remorselessly upward over the past six months and still shows no signs at all of leveling off. In July, almost three times as many Iraqi security troops were killed as in January and February.

This also contrasts with a monthly average of only 65 Iraqi security force members killed per week from April 1, 2003 through Dec. 31, 2004 according to the IIP. Currently, the vastly expanded Iraqi security forces are being killed at a rate four-and-a-half times greater per month than they were then.

It should be added that broad economic statistics confirm the devastating impact the worsening insurgency has had on Iraq’s economic recovery. As the Washington Post again noted Sunday, “Oil production is estimated at 2.22 million barrels a day, short of the goal of 2.5 million. Iraq’s pre-war high was 2.67 million barrels a day.

This figure is especially devastating as Iraq has the second-largest proven oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia. Bush administration senior officials genuinely believed that within a few months of the U.S.-dominated invasion to topple President Saddam Hussein in March 2003, Iraqi oil production would be spectacularly on line and would bring global oil prices down to around $20 a barrel. Instead, last week they hit an all time record high of $65 a barrel.

The most hopeful construction to put on U.S. casualty figures for August so far is that the insurgents just got lucky. It would be far more ominous if it wasn’t luck.